Pubdate: Wed, 27 Jul 2016
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 The Toronto Star
Author: Wendy Gillis
Page: GT1


There's no regard given to rules, independent police director

A Ghanaian man with limited English was forced to stand naked from the
waist down after three Toronto officers performed an unlawful public
strip search in broad daylight.

A Toronto beat cop testifying in court that he strip searched
"hundreds" of people naked, wrongly believing it was standard procedure.

An unconstitutional search by an officer who forced a man to drop his
pants, prompting an Ontario judge to call out "troubling systemic
issues" with strip searches at one Toronto police division.

Despite a 15-year-old Supreme Court ruling declaring strip searches
"inherently humiliating and degrading" and setting strict limits on
when they can be performed, unlawful strip searches continue in
Ontario - prompting tossed criminal charges, civil lawsuits and
complaints to the province's police watchdogs.

So many cases of unjustified strip searches have been brought to the
Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) that Gerry
McNeilly announced Tuesday he is using his office's greatest power to
launch a systemic, province-wide review of police strip search
policies and practices.

"I've had enough," McNeilly, the independent police director, said in
an interview Tuesday. "There is no regard being given to the rules."

The systemic review - only the fourth initiated by the OIPRD - is the
culmination of a years-long pursuit by McNeilly and other critics to
see officers follow the law set by the 2001 Supreme court case.

The landmark ruling states strip searches can only be conducted when
there are reasonable grounds, such as looking for evidence related to
an arrest or weapons. The searches cannot be employed "routinely,"
Canada's highest court ruled.

Nonetheless, Toronto police statistics show strip searches were
performed 20,152 times in 2013 - one out of every three arrests.

Meanwhile, evidence such as drugs was located in just over 1 per cent
of those searches. Former police chief Bill Blair, however, said
objects that could harm suspects or police officers, or could be used
to escape, were found in 43 per cent of those searches.

But critics say Toronto officers have for too long been allowed to
perform strip searches with unjustifiable frequency. In his 2012
report on mass arrests at Toronto's G20 summit, retired judge John
Morden called for an investigation into the high rate of "invasive"
strip searches.

The Toronto Police Services Board, too, attempted to rein in
employment of strip searches, calling for random spot checks at all 17
police divisions to see how and when the searches were approved and
performed. That review - which examined "level 3" searches, which
involve removing all or some of a person's clothing - ultimately found
every strip search performed over a two month period in 2014 was
"justified and lawful," according to then-police chief Bill Blair.

McNeilly, too, appealed to Toronto police to re-examine how frequently
officers employed strip searches. In 2013, he wrote a letter to Blair,
saying he was "deeply troubled by what appears to be a general overuse
of strip searches" by his officers.

A Toronto police spokesperson said Tuesday that the service would not
be commenting on McNeilly's announcement that he is launching a
systemic review of strip searches. Blair has previously defended
Toronto police policies on strip searches, saying the force has
policies restricting and accounting for the use of strip searches,
including requiring that officers videotape their orders to perform a
strip search (the searches themselves are not videotaped).

On Tuesday, McNeilly said the overreliance on the searches is far from
a Toronto problem; he has sent similar letters to other police chiefs.
But it was to no avail, he said, as shown by the growing number of
complaints and the frequency of judicial findings of unconstitutional

"Enough police services across the province are either not totally
aware of (the Supreme court decision), or policies are not being
followed, or policies may not be in place," he said. "I can tell you
that I have come across situations where some small services really
don't have policies."

The first step of the systemic review will be requesting and reviewing
individual police services' policies and practices - or lack thereof.
The reviewers will also examine the training given to officers, both
within each force and at the Ontario Police College, where all
officers receive basic training. McNeilly said he also hopes to
interview some of the complainants who have brought their concerns
about police strip searches to the OIPRD over the years.

The agency will then release a report with recommendations.

Jonathan Rosenthal, a Toronto criminal lawyer who has been practicing
criminal law for nearly 30 years, says he is "cautiously optimistic"
about McNeilly's review. But he says it will be difficult to tackle a
system-wide problem of police ignoring the Supreme Court ruling.

"(The ruling) was 15 years ago, and you still have police that don't
seem to have any concept of what their constitutional obligations
are," he said. Created in 2009, the OIPRD investigates complaints
about police in Ontario, but has the power to initiate a systemic
review of issues affecting policing province wide.

The agency's first systemic review produced a scathing report on
police actions during the G20. Last month, the agency released the
results of another systemic review, examining an incident involving
the OPP's collection of DNA from migrant workers in Elgin County. The
OIPRD is still conducting its systemic review into police use of force
prompted by the Toronto police shooting death of Sammy Yatim, and it
is expected to officially announce a systemic review into police
officer mental health and suicides later this year.
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